While it’s been a bit of a distraction from what appears to be shaping up as another Cold Stove offseason, the Astros sign-stealing scandal that has come to light over the last several weeks through the stellar reporting of The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich and ESPN’s Jeff Passan has been a very bad look for Major League Baseball. For many baseball fans, it feels like a lesser-of-two-evils situation: Either the Astros’ use of technology gave them an unfair, illegal advantage that helped them win a World Series in 2017, or many teams have developed such systems and the integrity of the entire sport is in doubt.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made his feelings known on the issue Tuesday while speaking to reporters at the league’s owners’ meetings in Arlington, Texas. While speaking to reporters, Manfred promised a “really, really thorough investigation” on an issue that he says “relates to the integrity of the sport.” While he said he was “not going to speculate on what the appropriate discipline is,” the commissioner suggested that the league could explore unprecedented punishments depending on the extent of the Astros’ violations. Manfred stated that the scope of the league’s investigation is currently limited to the Astros, despite suggestions that teams such as the Brewers and Rangers, perhaps among others, are guilty of electronic sign stealing as well.
It’d be interesting to see exactly how far the league is willing to go to punish the Astros and discourage teams from exhibiting this same type of prohibited behavior. Recent penalties for these types of major violations — which seem to be disproportionately common in baseball relative to other major pro sports in recent years — have included the loss of two top draft picks in 2017, a $2 million fine, and the permanent ban of former scouting director Chris Correa as punishment for the Cardinals hacking into the Astros’ scouting database, and the release of 13 minor-leaguers, loss of a third-round draft pick in 2018, major international signing penalties, a one-year ban for former special assistant Gordon Blakeley, and the permanent ban of former general manager John Coppolella as punishment for an international signing scandal. If MLB is willing to hand down penalties that are equally or more harsh than the ones they levied against the Cardinals and Braves, Luhnow and his front-office associates — particularly player personnel executive Kevin Goldstein, who appears to have played a leading role in putting the sign-stealing system together — should certainly be worried about their futures in baseball. Additionally, one has to wonder if on-field personnel such as manager A.J. Hinch, then-bench coach Alex Cora, and any players who may have had central roles in the sign-stealing may face serious discipline as well. After all, even if they were acting on advice handed down by front-office personnel — who should be discouraging that type of behavior rather than enabling it — people on the field and in the dugout and clubhouse almost certainly played a bigger role in actually stealing the signs and benefiting from that information than anyone in the front office did.